True Crime Tuesdays: Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist
Helen Archer | On 24, May 2022
Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist looks back at a series of audacious burglaries that shocked the exclusive communities of LA in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century – all the more so when it was discovered that the perpetrators were a group of middle-class teenagers, who partied at the same spots as their victims and coveted their celebrity and their riches. Much reported-on at the time – complete with a Vanity Fair article and a Sofia Coppola film starring Emma Watson – this three-part documentary, sadly, brings little more to the table.
To recap, just in case there’s anyone out there unfamiliar with the case: 13 years ago, a handful of LA-based stars, including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge and Lindsay Lohan, were targeted in a spate of break-ins. The thieves managed to slip into their often-unlocked homes, rummage around their wardrobes and leave with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. Famously, Paris Hilton didn’t know that she’d even been burgled the first few times, such is the sheer quantity of designer clothes and handbags she had lying around.
There are a few interesting avenues to go down here, some of which are mentioned by a handful of the contributors, which include lawyers, police officers, reality TV producers, Perez Hilton and, bizarrely, Josh Altman, of Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles. Some of the interviewees touch on the increase in reality TV, which meant stars opened their homes to the public, and the rise of social media, which led ordinary people to believe they were the stars of their own shows, as well as the ease with which the celebrities’ homes could be identified and their whereabouts known. But most of the documentary is given over to the two members of the “Bling Ring” who agreed to take part in the documentary, Alexis Neiers and Nick Prugo, as they give often contradictory accounts of the events.
Nick is cast here as the star of the show, by both himself and the programme makers. He takes the lead, although his back story is a prosaic one, ridden with envy and insecurity. Growing up on the “wrong side” of the San Fernando Valley, and moving to Calabasas at the age of 15, he coveted the possessions of his more well-to-do classmates, and was desperate to be accepted the only way he knew how – by buying friendship. Along with his original partner-in-crime Rachel Lee, he started breaking into cars, before graduating to the homes of celebrities.
Alexis’ story is much more compelling, mainly due to her mother – an ex-Playboy model and wannabe stage mom, consumed by fame and celebrity, with little in the way of self-awareness. She pimped her teenage daughters out to work on Marilyn Manson music videos, where they’d get wasted and paid for it, before landing them a reality show in the vein of a cut-price The Osbournes. The producers of Pretty Wild, which documented Alexis’ arrest and the subsequent fall-out, and ran for a total of nine episodes, detail the way in which they continued the “reality show”, even as Alexis slipped into heroin addiction.
In many ways, both Nick and Alexis could be seen as sympathetic characters; who amongst us hasn’t dreamed of stepping into one of those Million Dollar Listings we are increasingly barraged with? In a world which treasures possessions above all else, where you are judged on what brand you wear, where your house is, and what your parents earn, we tend to root for the underdog, even if the underdog is more privileged that 99 per cent of the population. It is, however, very difficult to warm to anyone here.
The format of the documentary doesn’t help – perhaps deliberately annoying, it seems to be attempting to parody the high-speed nature of social media, and the kind of gossip sites and reality TV it’s reporting on. A mixture of recreations and talking head interviews, it also plays around with voiceovers and green-screen in a very knowing, yet rather pointless, way. One minute Nick is “narrating” and complaining about the size of font used for the captions (“wait, you’re not going to use big text are you, that’s so cliché”), while Alexis, in voiceover, criticises the bridging shots. Perhaps it’s a way to comment on the way in which each of them would like to control the narrative, and yet all it does is draw attention to the fact that they are, in fact, controlling the narrative, with little in the way of pushback from the programme makers.
For all the production’s attempts at a zingy, meta take on a crime that has already been interrogated multiple times, the series seems both out-of-date and redundant. In better hands, it could have been an examination of the rise of influencer culture and the way in which we idolise the rich and famous, but the subject matter is squandered by the refusal to look in-depth at the bigger picture, the ways in which celebrity has mushroomed, and what that says about us as a culture – both then and now.
Bling Ring: Hollywood Heist is available on All 4.